Knesset Expected to Pass Law to Halt 25% Water Price Hike

Comptroller criticizes increase; Water Authority chief: Without price hike, system will collapse.

The Knesset is expected to pass a law that would prevent the 25 percent increase in water rates announced by the Water Authority, after State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss recommended that measures be taken to halt the price hike.

Water Authority director general Uri Shani said he intends to raise water rates by 25 percent as early as next month. But next week, the Knesset plenum will vote in preliminary reading on a bill that would transfer authority for setting water prices from the Water Authority to another body in an effort to reduce prices. The bill was drafted by MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima).

MK Miri Regev (Likud), whose request sparked Lindenstrauss' review of water pricing policy, has threatened to petition the High Court of Justice should prices continue to rise. The Knesset Finance Committee will hold a special meeting next week to address the comptroller's report on the matter.

At a meeting Wednesday of the Knesset State Control Committee, Shani said, "I will raise prices because I have no other source of funds."

"It is impossible to fund water infrastructure expenses - including NIS 30 billion for desalination - out of the state budget over the long term," he added.

Shani's comments came in response to Lindenstrauss' report, which concluded: "It would be appropriate to reconsider, thoroughly and in depth, the need for an immediate increase in water prices, and to consider postponing such a move until all the necessary examinations have been carried out."

"Because water is an essential commodity, significantly raising prices is likely to severely harm vulnerable elements of society," the comptroller's report added.

Lindenstrauss also criticized the way the decision to raise prices was made, stating, "Our study has found evidence that raises serious questions about several issues relating to water prices. The new price represents a 40 percent rise, but it seems this will not be the end of the story. Rather, prices are expected to rise further."

A heated argument erupted during the meeting between Shani and Regev, as the lawmaker accused the Water Authority chief of "not providing any answers."

Shani replied, "Without raising water prices we won't be able to desalinate water. I don't see how it will be possible, for example, to buy water from the desalination facility that opened last week in Hadera without an increase in prices, which is intended in part to fund the cost of desalination."

Shani added that postponing the price hike would lead to the collapse of "more than 20 municipal water and sewage authorities."

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beiteinu) said that after reading the comptroller's report, he was convinced that water policy must be set by a government agency. "The development, organization and management of the water system is not merely a professional issue, but also contains political, diplomatic, social and security aspects," he said.